Thursday, July 30, 2009

Raspberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade

[Updated 8-3-2009: I finally got my camera & cable in the house at the same time! So thought I might as well add the photos I had taken!]

With our previous CSA fruit share, we were blessed with several Meyer lemons. They were raved about in our newsletter like they were some kind of amazing offering so I figured I better try a few things with 'em! They are officially gone now, and I used them successfully in Meyer Lemon Bars, Meyer Lemon Cheesecake (based on the Lemon Cheesecake recipe in How to Cook Everything and also very similar to this one with lemons added), and my favorite: Raspberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade.

I of course could only find a recipe for Meyer Lemon Marmalade and one for Raspberry Lemon Marmalade (not specifically for Meyers) so I did my own thing to combine the two and amazingly - IT WORKED!

Raspberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade
4 Meyer lemons
2 c crushed raspberries
2 c water
6 c sugar

(Steps 1-7, parts of step 8 and accompanying photos are borrowed from Simply Recipes.)

Preparing the fruit

1 Scrub the lemons clean. Discard any that are moldy or damaged.

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2 Prepare the lemons. Cut 1/4 inch off from the ends of the lemons. Working one at a time, stand a lemon on end. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise. Cut each lemon half into several segments, lengthwise.

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As you cut the lemons into segments, if you can, pull off any exposed membranes. Just get the ones that are easy to get to, ignore the rest. When you've cut down to the final segment, cut away the pithy core. Remove all seeds from the segments. Reserve the seeds and any removed membrane or pith. You will need them to make pectin.

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Cut each lemon segment crosswise into even pieces to make little triangles of lemon peel and pulp.

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3 Put all of the seeds, membranes and pith you removed from the lemons into a bag fashioned out of two layers of cheesecloth or a muslin jelly bag.

First stage of cooking

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4 Place the lemon segments and water into a large, wide pot.

5 Place the pectin bag in the pot with the fruit pulp and secure to the pot handle.

6 Bring mixture to a medium boil on medium high heat. Let boil, uncovered, for about 25-35 minutes, until the peels are soft and cooked through. Test one of the lemon peel pieces by eating it. It should be soft. If it is still chewy, keep cooking until soft.

Remove from heat.

7 Remove the pectin bag, place the pectin bag in a bowl and let cool until it is comfortable to touch.

Add the raspberries, sugar and pectin

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8 Add the raspberries and sugar to the mixture and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, once your pectin bag has cooled to the point you can handle it, if you want, squeeze it like play-doh to extract any extra pectin. This is not necessary but will help ensure a good set. You should be able to get a tablespoon or two more from the bag. It has the consistency of sour cream. Return this pectin to the pan with the lemon mixture.

Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches a temperature of 220-222°F.

9. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is Being Green Inconvenient?

Well, maybe. Probably if you are used to conveniences in our modern systems. But some things, such as composting, are easy. Some, such as joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and cooking more from scratch with SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical) food do indeed seem inconvenient. At first. I'm about a couple months into my first ever CSA experience. And though I considered myself average in terms of cooking experience before I joined, I really did have a lot to learn. I mean, I could make the typical American meals on most people's weekly menus no problem. Often without a recipe. But I had no idea what to do with half of the veggies we were getting in our CSA. There was a steep learning curve at first. I'll readily admit to that.

But now, I think I'm hitting my stride. So this leads me to think that I just needed to gain a bit more 'kitchen literacy' to borrow a term from some others in the blogosphere. Mark Bittman's blog post True Convenience, and's post Not much convenience in 'convenience foods'
hit on exactly what I was coming to realize on my own. They both point out that so called 'convenience foods' actually don't hit the table any faster than cooking from scratch. Yet our culture's focus on convenience only encourages kitchen illiteracy. Before joining a CSA, sure I could cook on my own, but if I wanted to make Mac 'n Cheese (one of my four-year-old's favorites) or Lasagna or Tuna Noodle Casserole, would I make it from scratch? Heck no! It came from a box or frozen, with directions, and the fewer ingredients I needed to add, the better.

What have I learned since then? That it really doesn't take any longer to cook from scratch than to cook from a box. That with experience the time I spend planning is decreasing. And that when I cook from scratch I have much more satisfaction in the meal I prepared. I'm often surprised and delighted with the turnout, as is my family. How often have you ever felt that way about Hamburger Helper? Or Kraft Mac 'n Cheese? Or the lasagna you got from the freezer?

And I've also gathered a few time-saving tips of my own:
  1. Do as much prep-work as you can the night before. Chop vegetables, thaw meat, do whatever you can manage the night before after the kids are in bed. That way you can throw it all together the next day come dinner time. 20 minutes prep time without kids under foot can seem like it saves you an hour the next day. Really.
  2. Crockpot/Slow Cooker.
  3. Rice Cooker.
  4. For both of the above, buy an appliance timer to plug them into. Then you can actually have things finish just as you arrive home from work.
  5. Bread Machine (you can have pizza dough rising while you chill in the evening. Take it out and shape it which only takes 5 minutes and stick it in the fridge until the next day's dinner).
  6. Cook in big batches. Especially when cooking meat. Already need to brown 1 lb of ground beef? Go ahead and brown 2. Or even 3. You can use the extra another night in another dish without having to do the work. Cook big roasts in the crockpot. They take almost no work that way, and you can use the meat in more than one dish.
  7. Read Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Read it. Really. Don't just look up the one thing you need. It's one of the best book's I've ever seen for gaining some kitchen literacy.
Another thing I'm especially thankful for when it comes to my CSA experience, is that my son is learning not only about where food comes from, but how it's actually made. He's only four, so is by no means an adept assistant. But even if the dish I'm making is something he turns his nose up at the dinner table, he was typically there by my side on his little step stool watching me every step of the way. How sad if I hadn't joined a CSA or ever gotten into a make-it-yourself kick, that he might have grown up thinking meals only come from a box? Making meals from scratch might have seemed to him in adulthood like washing laundry with a tub and washboard seems to us. And then I think about how it's possible to have a whole generation of children grow up with this kind of kitchen illiteracy. It's sad.

I know the CSA experience may not be for everyone. And leaving all out-of-a-box cooking by the wayside might not be either. (Even for me!) But I hope that in our ever-increasingly-convenient world, we can still manage to teach our kids where things really come from. How to be self-sufficient in ways that don't rely too heavily on convenience. How sometimes convenience is just a trick of the eye, a marketing ploy, and in reality it can sometimes be just as easy to do it yourself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Is Being Green Affordable?

I'm not sure I would have known the answer to this question even a few months ago. I didn't give much thought to greening my life. Well, actually I did think about it, a lot, but didn't take much action. Practically none actually. Sure I put some recycling out every week and rode the bus to work, but those were the easy things. When I started to really think about greening my life and how I never seemed to take action on things, my biggest fears seemed to be with the affordability of it all. And particularly with food. Local, organic food. Sustainable food.

I was a big coupon clipper. I mean BIG. Like I had a big binder filled with baseball card sleeves of thoroughly organized coupons. I would go to the local big chain grocery store with a computer printout of exactly what was on sale, which coupon(s) to use for each product, what price it was before and after the coupon, and my big hefty binder. I looked so serious and official that people would come up to me to ask for help. I guess all the paperwork and the binder made me look managerial or something.

So since eating more local and more organic is what comes to mind when I think of greening my food life a bit, and we all know buying food at the co-op costs more, I of course was pretty convinced it wasn't for me. After all, we all know you can't clip enough coupons for organic, local food to save 60% on your shopping trip like I was used to at the big chain stores. So I did some research.

I had heard all this stuff about CSAs for years. What's a CSA? It's Community Supported Agriculture. Meaning you buy a "share" in a local, usually organic but not necessarily, farm and in exchange receive weekly or sometimes every other weekly boxes of produce from the farm. I had actually always wanted to try one just because it sounds a little fun. But I thought it also seemed expensive. After all one share is hundreds of dollars. For VEGETABLES.

But then I did the math. For us, signing up with a local CSA with Harmony Valley Farm for a half veggie share (every other week), extended season veggies, a full fruit share, and once a month cheese is only costing us about $37 per week. For more than enough veggies, fruit & most of the cheese we need for our household. That's actually a good deal! And it's organic! And local!! Now, we will NOT get shares in February through April. I do live in Minnesota remember! But we are also not paying for them in those months either.

Then I did some more research and found out there are local meat CSAs too. I just joined Sunshine Harvest Farm. It runs $100/month and you get 20 lbs of organic meat/eggs each month. That's about $5/pound which may be a lot compared to the local chain stores, but not so much compared to the organic meats found at the local co-op. It's also plenty of meat for our family each month. So now we're up to about $255/month on groceries. Throw in a few extras like grains & milk from the co-op which I probably spend about $100/month on.

Bottom line? That's actually AT LEAST as cheap as I was getting our groceries for with all my coupon clipping frenzy. AND I no longer have to spend hours (really) clipping & organizing coupons, nor do I have to make that arduous 1.5 hour long grocery shopping trip to meticulously buy exactly what is on sale with the exact right coupons to get the deals. I simply pick up a box of veggies, fruit, or cheese every week from a neighbor's garage, and a box of meat every month. And make a couple 15 minute stops at the co-op.

I'm floored by my experiences so far. I had no idea I could do this and actually NOT spend more money than I used to on groceries. Cheap, unhealthy, processed, full-of-pesticide-and-fake-ingredients groceries. And I'm really enjoying the process of learning about new vegetables and introducing them to my family. Dinner is an adventure every night and so much fun to be trying new things.

What about other green initiatives and their affordability? Well, composting doesn't cost a thing. Gardening can, but can also be done on the cheap or at least cheaper than it would cost to buy the fruits of your labor in the store. Recycling, at least where we live, also doesn't cost a thing. It's a service provided by the city and they'll come by every week whether we like it or not. Soon we will begin cloth diapering with a local diaper service, also cheaper than disposables even though we are splurging to pay the service to launder them. (I'll go into the details after our twins are born - I PROMISE!) Bicycling? Also cheaper than both the bus and the car.

I'll admit. There are those who's grocery allowance may be even lower than what I've detailed here. But I'd challenge folks to at least check it out. And do the math. If it doesn't work for you, then do what you can to buy local and organic every now and then. What about a local farmer's market? There are often amazing deals on organic, locally grown produce there. You can spend anywhere from $1 on up. And it's fun. My four-year-old LOVES a trip to the farmer's market. Especially if we can arrange to ride the light rail (a.k.a. "train" to him) to get there.

Are there ways that you've found to make greening your life affordable? Insights or tips you'd like to share? If so, I'd love to hear 'em!

Using up the box with Pasty!

I found another amazing way to use up the box: traditional Michigan UP (that's Upper Peninsula) Pasty! What's a pasty? Basically pie-like crust folded in half & sealed over a filling usually made of cubed beef stew meat, and thinly sliced potatoes, carrots & onions. And I think it's the perfect dish for many of my CSA veggies! This time I stuck with a more traditional route, but I have visions of using cooking greens, summer squash and other veggie delights! Never made a pasty before and want to give it a try? I didn't exactly use a recipe but here's what I did.

Refrigerated pie crust, 1-2 packages or enough home-made pie crust to make 3-4 crusts.
1 lb ground beef
4-5 small carrots, thinly sliced
3 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
1 small sweet potato, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Worcestershire sauce
seasoning salt (I swear by Krazy Jane's Mixed Up Salt)
a bit of vegetable broth

Mix the raw beef, veggies, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt, and a few spoonfuls of vegetable broth. Pile it on half of the rolled out crust. Fold the crust over and fold over edges to seal tightly. Cut three slits in the top of the crust. You'll probably find you have enough filling for 3-4 pasties. Bake at 350 for about an hour. About 10 minutes before it's done use a pastry brush to generously brush the crust with broth, making sure to let some get into the pasty. This allows it to brown lightly, and adds some moisture to the filling.

You can really substitute anything you want for filling in these. If you try anything creative with your seasonal veggies I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fennel Beet and Orange Salad

OK, confession time: I have NEVER eaten fennel or beets. They are completely new veggies to me. Seriously. New. So I had to come up with some way to try these things. And boy am I glad that Harmony Valley Farm's recipes came to the rescue! I made this salad to take to a potluck and was sorry that I forgot to take the little bit leftover back home with me it was so good! Oh, and I don't care for mustard so I omitted that part and it was still delicious!

Fennel Beet and Orange Salad
from Harmony Valley Farm
2-3 medium beets
1 head of fennel
2 oranges
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1.Preheat oven to 400 º. Remove beet tops and set aside. Trim stems to 1”, scrub beets, rub with oil, and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Cool.
2.Thinly slice fennel bulb crosswise and sauté slowly with a small amount of oil over low heat until it is nicely browned. Remove from heat.
3.Zest one orange. Whisk balsamic with orange zest, Dijon, 2 Tbsp oil, and salt and pepper.
4.Cut peels and white pith from oranges. Cut crosswise into thin slices.
5.Chop fennel stalks and reserve fronds.
6.Peel cooled beets and cut into 1” chunks.
7.Toss browned fennel bulb with orange slices, beets, fennel stalks, and dressing.
8.Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds to taste.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cheese Fondue with my Veggie & Cheese Shares

When I saw the recipe for cheese fondue in the Harmony Valley Farm newsletter for my latest cheese share and thought of the fact that I had one green apple on it's last legs, cauliflower, zucchini, tofu, and homemade whole-wheat bread all plentifully available in my kitchen already, I knew this was a meal I would be sure to make. The only problem is I have a wife pregnant with twins and the fondue called for a beer. We are taking every precaution to make sure this pregnancy goes well, so that was definitely out of the question. So I did what any determined City Girl would do. I made up my own. Armed with Organic Cedar Grove Monterey Jack, Otter Creek Summer Cheddar, and Pasture Land Coop's Sogne cheeses I got to work.

Cheese and Onion Fondue
1 T butter
2 White Cipollini onions, bulbs only, chopped (save the green parts for another dish)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T flour
1 c milk or half and half
1 c Sogne cheese, finely grated
1 c Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 c Cheddar Cheese, grated

Set the fondue pot to 'simmer' and add butter and onions. Cook onions for 2 minutes then add Worcestershire sauce and flour stirring well. Add the milk or half and half and heat until milk begins to thicken. You may need to increase the heat on the fondue pot slightly. Reduce heat back to 'simmer', and add cheeses one handful at a time. When melted, add the next handful.

I used an electric fondue pot with a 'simmer' setting to cook my fondue. If you don't have an electric pot, I'd recommend simmering the ingredients in a pot on your stove over medium-low heat instead.

The cauliflower, zucchini, and apple are all excellent in the fondue raw. For the bread, I cut it into large cubes and toasted in the oven for 10 minutes in a shallow baking pan. For the tofu, I buy mine at an Asian grocery already pressed. If you don't, you may need to press the tofu. I honestly have never done it. The Asian market is so much easier! You can chop it into large cubes, and dip in egg or milk, then breadcrumbs, and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

And here's the finished spread. Minus the apple. Because that was actually a last-minute addition.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Making Vegetable Broth from Scraps

When I read that you could make vegetable broth from scraps this City Girl was psyched! There's nothing more green than making something out of stuff that would be otherwise just sitting in the compost heap. So for the past month I've been accumulating veggie scraps in the freezer. When one large plastic container didn't seem to be quite enough, I also filled a large sized freezer bag with scraps. Well washed of course. Things like onion ends, pea-vines nearing their end, the buds from garlic scapes, chard stems, carrot tops & peels, cauliflower leaves and stems, and kohlrabi greens. At least that's what I could identify as I threw them into the crock pot.
I did feel I didn't have enough onion parts so a plucked a few small Spanish onions from the garden, along with some parsley just because I had a ton, and threw those in. The rest couldn't be simpler. Fill with water, turn the crock pot on low and let it all steep for 12-24 hours. I threw it in last night and strained it tonight, about 24 hours later, through a cheese cloth. It was the most beautiful looking veggie broth I've ever seen!

I got about 18 cups of broth. Plenty to last me quite a while! And there is just nothing more satisfying than making something from scraps I would have just thrown into the compost. Now let's make some soup!

Growing Cauliflower

Now, I've tried plenty of the usual veggies in my garden before. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs... But this year is my first year trying cauliflower. And I am forever indebted to Harmony Valley Farm because on our visit there a few weeks ago, I heard them mention the fact that you must TIE your cauliflower leaves to cover the new baby head of cauliflower in order to keep if white. If you don't it will turn brown! I had no idea! So I finally tied my cauliflower the other day. Well, rubber-banded it that is. I found an excellent illustration here.

What about you? Are there any last minute surprising garden tips you got wind of just in time? Or any that you didn't but wish you had?

Oh, and here's our first harvest from one of the square foot gardens, a beautiful little cucumber:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grapefruit Granita

In a few more days we'll get another fruit share, so we're still trying to make it through the last one. My favorite from the last box was the grapefruit. However since it's a little time intensive to eat compared to most fruits I decided to use most of it to make granita. It was excellent. Basically not much more than frozen, slushy grapefruit juice but it felt like a nice healthy summer treat.

Grapefruit Granita
juice from 4-5 grapefruit (about 2 cups)
zest from 1 orange
juice from 1 orange
1/3 c Splenda or sugar (or more to taste)
1/4 c water

Mix all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour into a 13x9 pan and freeze for about 2 hours, using a fork to break up the crystals every 30-45 minutes. If you are going to store before serving, but it into an air tight container once frozen. If you like it sweet you will definitely want more sugar. I like mine tart so thought this was perfect.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CSA Week 9

Last week we got another installment of our veggie & cheese shares from Harmony Valley Farm: Fresh garlic, White cipollini onions, Red beets, Fennel, Carrots, Thai basil, Cucumbers , Snow Peas, Baby bok choi, Salad Mix, Cauliflower, Otter Creek Summer Cheddar, Pasture Land Coop's Sogne, Cedar Grove Monterey Jack.
Plans for the loot? Well, I've honestly never tried beets or fennel. So thinking of trying those roasted since it seems to have been a big hit for some of the other veggies that were new to the City Girl household so far. I'm sure I'll make use of the cucumbers and carrots with the salad mix, and as snacks by themselves. And all that cheese? I'm thinking of a lovely cheese fondue which would also lend itself well to the cauliflower and a leftover zucchini from our last box. As for the rest, we'll have to see!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cooking Beans in the Pressure Cooker

Okay. This is one of those City Girl experiments that didn't go so well. Not that it's the first (not by a long shot). But I had a bunch of black beans to cook, and didn't want to do the whole soak for 12 hours, cook for 2, or whatever long and drawn out processes my cookbook outlined for choices. And it did mention briefly that you could cook them much quicker in a pressure cooker. But it did not give details.

So true to City Girl form, I did my research. Read at least a dozen descriptions online for how to cook beans in the pressure cooker. THEN I discovered that my pressure cooker manual actually DID have instructions for cooking dried beans. (I couldn't find them before because it was under a category called 'Dried Vegetables'.) Now, keep in mind that my pressure cooker is old. I mean OLD. Like, after the elderly next door neighbor lady died 10 years ago, I bought it at her estate sale for 25 cents. Like so old it has directions for how to cook with it on a coal or wood stove. For real. Check it out: So, when the instructions said to soak the beans for 12 hours AND cook them for 35 minutes I thought it seemed a little odd. After all, everything I read online said to cook them for 15 minutes. Some said not to soak at all. Some said to soak. I thought, "This thing is really old. Maybe it's different. I better just do what it says." So I put the beans in to soak before I went to work in the morning and when I got home I turned on the heat. I couldn't quite cook it for 35 minutes because I had to run and pick up my four-year-old from preschool before they closed...but I figured 25-30 minutes was probably fine given that everything else online said 15.

Yeah right. When we got home, I opened up the pressure cooker and what did I get for all my efforts? Mush. Black Bean Mush. Maybe people in the 1950's or whenever my pressure cooker is from ate their beans like mush? Whaddya think? I have no idea, but it's not how I eat them! Ah well. At least I was only making black bean dip. I can make mushy work for that. And now I know for next time. FIFTEEN minutes. And maybe I won't even soak 'em.

Anybody use a pressure cooker to cook beans? Anybody do it with an ancient one like mine? How do you do it?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Radish Parmesan Pizza

Wow. I can't believe it's almost time to pick up a new installment of our veggie share from Harmony Valley Farm (this Thursday!) and we've used up our entire share! Well, except for a tiny bit of spinach that went bad. That really is a tragedy because I've discovered how easy it is to throw spinach into nearly anything! Ah well. More for the compost I guess!

One of my most exciting discoveries since joining a CSA has been that I LIKE RADISHES! Well, cooked radishes that is! I still don't care for them much raw, though I have a suspicion I might like them just fine if they were grated into a salad. I have tried them roasted on the grill, sauteed with butter, onions, and a bit of salt and now for my most recent experiment: Radish Pizza! Sound a little weird? It's not! It was really shockingly good.

Here's what I did.

Radish Parmesan Pizza
Prepare Pizza Dough (see my previous post)

a bit of grapeseed oil
2 garlic scapes, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
4-5 small radishes, thinly sliced, for a SMALL pizza (cut up more for a large one!)
1/4 c Thoten or parmesan cheese

Throw the oil & garlic scapes into the skillet. Saute the scapes until they are just beginning to soften. Then add onions, rosemary and radishes. Saute until radishes are just beginning to brown slightly. Spread the mixture on the pizza dough. Top with cheese. You may use more if you like, but I liked using a scant amount of cheese for this one. Cook at 450 degrees 10-15 minutes or until crust is beginning to brown.

I took this pizza to a Fourth of July lunch with some relatives, along with a pesto spinach pizza, basic cheese pizza, and Mango Avocado Lime Salad and I'm happy to say they were all devoured!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bike Commuting (with Bill!!!)

So my friend Bill is starting a fabulous new business: Bike with Bill. What is it? Your fastest and easiest ticket to smooth sailing bike commuting. Bill was the perfect personal guide for my first ever bike commute.

He researched and rode my route to work ahead of time. Foreseeing a few obstacles on the first half of the trip AND knowing that I have not ridden my bike in oh, just four years or so, he suggested we drive half-way and bike the second half for our first outing. While I was slightly disappointed that I'd be using up gas in order to start out as a bike commuter, I have to admit his advice was right on. I do live far enough from Minneapolis that my total bike route is 11.5 miles, one-way. So for the first commute we biked the last 5.8 miles of the route. While others may be able to ride that in no time, for this city girl it took about 45 minutes. That's a good long ride for someone who hasn't ridden in a while, even if I did used to be a pretty experienced biker before my four-year-old was born!

Before we took off on that first ride though, Bill put in quite a bit of time on my behalf. He first researched the best route. One of the tools he uses for this is Cyclopath. Kinda like a Google Maps for the Twin Cities bike world. He then actually rode the entire route. He discovered there was some road construction about 1/2 way in, which we avoided by starting our mid-way commute right after that spot. Prior to my first commute he sent an excellent list of tips and recommendations so I could best prepare for my ride.

The day of the commute I was so nervous I had hardly slept. It had been so long since I'd been an avid biker that I wondered if I could really pull this off! We drove the first half the actual bike route so I could see where I would be biking once I worked up doing the whole trip by bike. I followed his car in my own, and he managed to expertly point out things along the way akin to some kind of Vanna White of the biking world. He pointed out off-road bike trails that I'd be traveling on and where turns and obstacles were.

Then we parked our car near the U of M intercampus transitway, a quick thoroughfare between the St Paul and Minneapolis campuses that allows U of M shuttle buses and bicycles only. What a great route! From there we had a minimal distance to go via city streets, and then got to ride to downtown Minneapolis via the Stone Arch Bridge, another excellent off-road part of my commute.

Then it was just a few blocks through downtown to my office building and voila!

All along, Bill demonstrated perfect biker etiquette and offered the most comprehensive lessons on bicycle rules of the road I've ever had. He thoroughly went through the various hand-signals and modeled them while riding ahead of me. I felt a million times more assured that I knew what I was doing after his lessons then I ever had in my life, even compared to back when I was a pretty avid biker. He gave me all of the confidence and know-how I could get.

His best tip? "I always smile at other drivers, cyclists, or walkers." Because according to Bill, bicycling should be enjoyable at all times! Too many bikers and drivers act as if we are at odds with each other. We can both be much happier with smiles, good communication, caution, attentiveness and respect. And communication is KEY when bike commuting. Go the extra mile to communicate pleasantly where your going and what your doing to others that share the road. His emphasis on positivity and friendliness was almost a bit Mr-Rogers-esque. It was refreshing and very welcomed amidst all of the squabbling I hear in local media on the tensions between drivers and cyclists.

I'm anxious to bike the whole commute, but I think I'll spend this week doing the drive half/bike half idea. Then we'll see if I feel up to perhaps a full bike ride to work, with a bus home in the afternoon. Live in the Twin Cities and wanna see if Bill can help you start bike commuting too? Send him an e-mail at

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mango Avocado Salad

Due to our fabulous Harmony Valley Farm fruit share we seem to have an abundance of several things: mangoes, avocados, plums, peaches, and nectarines. WOW!! So I've been stewing on what to do with all of these things because we seem to be getting a bit more fruit than we can handle in two-weeks time before the next fruit share box comes our way.

While I'm still deciding what to try with my plums (plum wine or canned whole plums?) I stumbled upon the PERFECT use for my mangoes and avocados. Mango Avocado Lime Salad. At first I thought, "What??? Mangoes and Avocados together???" But tasked with providing lunch for a few relatives over fourth of July (a group of 5 adults and 3 kids) and trying to make the most of my CSA shares, I decided to give it a whirl.

I of course modified what I saw a bit to fit what I had on hand. I also couldn't resist adding some lime zest which the original recipe did not call for. It gave the yogurt such a yummy lime zing! Here's the City Girl version.

Mango Avocado Lime Salad

1 large mango
1 large avocado, firm and not too ripe
1 lime
8 oz vanilla yogurt

Cut mango & avocado into bite-sized pieces and mix together in a bowl. Firm avocado will hold up best, but go ahead even if you have one that's very ripe and soft. Zest the lime and add zest to the yogurt in a small dish. This will be the dressing for the salad. Squeeze juice from the lime into the mango/avocado mixture. Let the salad and yogurt sit overnight for the BEST fresh lime flavor you can imagine! When serving guests should drizzle the yogurt over their salad.

I tried this once by preparing it about 30 minutes before it was served. The results were not nearly as good as the time I let it sit overnight. So do some early prep work and you'll have a FABULOUS summer salad!